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MANDATE 2004 - Dharmendra vs Devi Singh Bhati

KEY CONTESTS/ Bikaner: Rajasthan

Our Political Bureau  |  New Delhi 

The chief of the Social Justice Front or Samajik Nyaya Manch, Devi Singh Bhati, who walked out of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) just before the Rajasthan Assembly elections in protest against the BJP's decision to put in abeyance, reservations for the poor among forward castes like Rajputs and Brahmins, might not have won too many seats in the Assembly elections.
But with his reported decision to field himself as a candidate for the Bikaner Lok Sabha seat against film actor and BJP candidate Dharmendra, the seat has become the arena of a spirited contest.
The Indian National Lok Dal is also setting up a candidate in Bikaner. Bhati's supporters said in reports from Jodhpur that their leader was likely to contest the Lok Sabha elections, although Bhati himself said he would make his decision public only next week. Elections in Rajasthan are due on May 5.
The Manch, registered on the eve of the Assembly elections in November 2003, was highly successful in mobilising public opinion over reservation to the poor among Rajputs and Brahmins and the backward classes. But it won just one seat""Kolayat in Bikaner ""out of the 60 candidates it had put up all over Rajasthan.
The Manch got three per cent of the votes polled in the Assembly elections, and has emerged as a significant pressure group.
Given the social realities of Rajasthan, the forum represents the new political ambitions of the upper castes in Rajasthan. The Manch could transform voting behaviour in a state where caste is an important tool of political mobilisation.
The previous Congress government in Rajasthan had offered reservations to Jats, something that their traditional rivals, Rajputs had reacted to violently.
The Other Backward Classes - Yadavs and Gujars""and Rajputs with Brahmins formed a new political compact against Jats. It is this grouping that the Manch had represented. It is another matter, that despite being given the sop, Jats voted against the Congress in the last elections.
The Manch is committed to a separate quota for Jats from the stipulated quota of reservation for the OBCs so that the share of the OBCs is not diluted.
LS Kalvi, Manch general secretary, said that despite considerable backing for the Manch, those BJP and Congress candidates who had backed the Manch, had emerged successful. The Manch had been leveraged to help others cruise to political victory. Therefore, the Manch would have to rethink its role.
Now, with the likelihood of Bhati contesting the elections, it appears that the Manch could revive itself, spelling a potential headache for the BJP government in Rajasthan.


First Published: Mon, April 12 2004. 00:00 IST